Ofttimes buyers and sellers neglect inter-agent protocol

#25 in a series of true experiences in real estate
August 1993, Hills Newspapers

Should you call the listing agent directly or not?

Hardly anybody knows how the system works, and agents sometimes forget to explain. They assume buyers understand, then one day there is a phone call: I saw a sign on a house on Virginia Street, called the agent who got me inside, and I love it. I bought it last night.

The sorry agent, understandably disappointed, says, I could have shown you that house. All you had to do was call me. I thought you knew.

But the buyer, for whose benefit this agent may have spent many unpaid hours, didn’t know because the agent never told him.

A woman called us recently saying she needs help. She’s been trying to find a house on her own. The process makes her dizzy. She complains that she can’t get the information she wants on houses she goes to see.

Sometimes the person holding the house open doesn’t know if there is a drainage problem or what the termite report says. When asked why the seller is selling or whether the price is flexible, the agent seems not to know or maybe doesn’t want to tell.

This woman found a house she liked very much but she was so frustrated in her attempts to find out what she felt she needed to know, so annoyed with the person who held the house open, that she gave up. She might have bought that house and been happy, but she didn’t, and now she was asking if we could help.

Here is how it works. The seller hires an agent to represent him in the sale of his house and to make buyers aware that it is available. That agent is the listing agent.

Often the listing agent is the person at the open house, but sometimes there is a substitute – another agent from the same office or, occasionally, someone else hired to hold the house open. These people may or may not be familiar with the property.

If you go to see a house with an agent because you called about a sign or an ad you’ve seen, or you simply show up at an open house and want to buy that house, you are generally considered the client of that agent. Usually this agent will be representing both you and the seller. The choice of your representative will be made by default.

If you would like to make a decided choice (almost always an advantage), you can. It’s good to choose before you find your house. You can ask friends who have used an agent for a referral or you can talk to agents at open houses until you find one who suits you.

Hopefully you will choose someone who understands what you are looking for and will help in the search. Agents frequently know about houses before they have signs on them, before they are advertised. And agents look at a lot more houses than you probably will so more territory is covered. Try too for an agent who speaks your language so she’ll be looking for what you actually want.

Now you tell the agent you’d like to work with you. That agent will then be yours. If you want information about a house you’ve learned about from an ad or sign, no matter who has the listing, your agent will find out what you want to know. Your agent can show you houses that are listed by any office.

She will deal with the listing agent. You won’t have to. Your agent will ask about the drainage and the termite report, the roof, the reason the sellers are moving, and many other potentially important matters.

You can still go look at houses on Sunday. In fact, anything you can do to help your agent figure out what house will work for you is a good idea. This includes looking at houses on your own if you have the time and inclination.

But when you get to the open house, you will say to the agent who is there, Hello. I’m working with an agent – Tarpoff & Talbert, and that’s all. You’ll walk through the house and later convey your questions to us. We’ll get the answers.

The woman who called us was vastly relieved to hear all of this. That’s wonderful, she said, I had no idea. I’ll just let you handle it.

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